Ictal pain: occurrence, clinical features, and underlying etiologies

Epilepsy Behav. 2016 Aug;61:59-62. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2016.05.006. Epub 2016 Jun 14.


Purpose: We analyzed a series of patients with ictal pain to estimate its occurrence and characterize the underlying etiologies.

Methods: We retrospectively reviewed all the long-term video-EEG reports from Jefferson Comprehensive Epilepsy Center over a 12-year period (2004-2015) for the occurrence of the term "pain" in the text body. All the extracted reports were reviewed, and patients with at least one documented episode of ictal pain in the epilepsy monitoring unit (EMU) were included in the study.

Results: During the study period, 5133 patients were investigated in our EMU. Forty-six patients (0.9%) had at least one documented episode of ictal pain. Twenty-four patients (0.5%) had psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES), 10 patients (0.2%) had epilepsy, 11 patients (0.2%) had migraine, and one woman had a cardiac problem. Pain location was in the upper or lower extremities (with or without other locations) in 80% of the patients with epilepsy, 33% of the patients with PNES (p=0.01), and none of the patients with migraine.

Conclusion: Ictal pain is a rare finding among patients evaluated in EMUs. Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures are the most common cause, but ictal pain is not specific for this diagnosis. Location of the ictal pain in a limb may help differentiate an epileptic cause from others.

Keywords: Epilepsy; Ictal; Pain; Psychogenic; Seizure.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Electroencephalography
  • Epilepsy / complications
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy
  • Extremities
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / epidemiology
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Seizures / complications*
  • Seizures / drug therapy
  • Seizures / physiopathology*
  • Somatoform Disorders / physiopathology


  • Anticonvulsants